Businessperson Simbi Phiri, who is at the centre of a controversy for being awarded a multimillion kwacha water project, has a South African and Malawian passport which is illegal in Malawi.
Deputy public relations officer for Immigration, Willingtone Chiponde, confirmed to this reporter in an interview on Wednesday that Simbi has a Malawi passport.
“I can confirm with you that our records show that Simbi Ashan Phiri has a Malawi passport number MA034189,” said Chiponde.
He said the department will investigate the matter. “This is just a tip-off we got from you; we will investigate if he has surrendered it or not.”
Minister of Home Affairs Grace Chiumia said she is not aware that Simbi Phiri has a dual citizenship.
“Officers at the Immigration Department have never told me this. Are you serious? I will investigate and do the needful,” said Chiumia in a telephone interview yesterday.
Documents we have seen show that Phiri was issued with the Malawian passport number MA034189 in September 22 2010, which expires on September 21 2020.
But Phiri’s spokesperson, Taonga Botolo, downplayed questions about Phiri’s dual citizenship, saying any reference about Phiri’s Malawian passport is “merely guess work.”
“Mr. Simbi Phiri has never, at any point in time, claimed he holds Malawi citizenship,” he said.
Botolo maintained that Phiri only holds South African citizenship.
“I wish to emphasise that he holds a South African passport and that through parentage, he also considers Malawi and Botswana as his homes,” he said.
“Simbi Phiri is a naturalised South African. Any document you may come across proving otherwise is fake, defamatory and malicious,” he added.
Botolo said Simbi Phiri’s biological father originally hailed from
Chembe Village, Nkhoma, in Lilongwe, Malawi, while his biological mother originally came from Tonota Village in Botswana.
“Simbi Phiri’s father trekked to South Africa in the 1950s in search of economic fortunes and met his wife-to-be and Mr. Simbi Phiri’s mother in a place called Mafikeng, South Africa.”
He said Phiri’s father and mother have together visited both Malawi and Botswana, their respective homes.
In Botswana, Simbi has also described himself as a South African citizen with identity number M00111023, according to Botswana Registration of Companies which we have seen.
It is not clear when he obtained a South African citizenship. South Africa allows dual citizenship.
Section 6 of the Malawi Citizenship Act prohibits dual citizenship and that offenders could be arrested and have their passport withdrawn.
Reads Section 6 (1): “No citizen of Malawi, being a person of full age and capacity, who is also to his own knowledge a citizen of any other country, shall be liable to deprivation of citizenship of Malawi in accordance with section 24.”
The Malawi government awarded Phiri’s Khato Civils a $500 million (K400 billion) Salima-Lilongwe Water Project contract over which the Malawi Law Society has taken the Environmental Affairs Department to court, arguing that the project cannot proceed without the department furnishing it with a report of the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) conducted on the project to tap water from Lake Malawi in line with the laws.
In June this year, the Malawi Immigration Department arrested Kassam Nurmahomed, an Asian businessperson for holding Malawian and British passports.
Just after 2014 elections President Peter Mutharika hinted to open up a debate in order to allow for more discussion around the proposal for the country to allow dual citizenship.
Mutharika promised his government will review the law on this after the Malawi Washington Association (MWA) told him that their desire was to see Malawi’s commitment to the Diaspora “expressed through inclusive citizenship laws that recognise and secure our contributions, investments, property and Malawian identities.”
Some opposition parties and commentators have been backing the proposal to review the citizenship law to facilitate a move which will see the country allowing dual citizenship.
However since then, the matter has not yet been resolved.
Phiri told the media that he has funded President Mutharika’s governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as well as the main opposition grouping Malawi Congress Party (MCP), and its leader, Lazarus Chakwera.
“You cannot do a project in an environment without knowing the technocrats, the politicians and the community, these are stakeholders…. We have to engage,” he was quoted as saying.